FULTON, Mo. – The Eureka men put themselves in position to snag a major road win over St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference foe Westminster.
However, the Blue Jays slowed the game down and hit just enough free throws to get the edge in a 79-74 victory over the Red Devils at Historic Gym Saturday afternoon.
Dakota Bennington (Peoria, Ill./Peoria Christian) and Hank Thomas (Peoria, Ill./Richwoods) both finished with a team-high 17 points for EC. Thomas, who also dished six assists, contributed the bulk of his (15 points) during the first half when the Red Devils were lagging behind, knocking down 3-of-4 3-pointers to keep the team in the game.
Austin Juergens (Pekin, Ill./Pekin) added 15 points on an efficient 5-of-9 shooting, and Jordan Dehm (Metamora, Ill./Metamora) delivered all 13 of his points in the second half to help spark a comeback push. Alex Wiegand (Washington, Ill./Washington) pulled down a team-high 11 rebounds.
EC trailed favored Westminster by 13 at halftime, but the visitors got off to a good start to the second and gradually chipped away at the lead in the first 10 minutes.
A 3-pointer by Jordan Dehm with 14:20 left made it an eight-point game. Less than a minute later, an Austin Juergens jumper cut it to six. Westminster's Romo Tabb answered with a 3-pointer, but Dehm knocked down a trey of his own to make it six again.
Then, with under 10 1/2 minutes to go, Eureka closed the gap with a 6-0 run. In the span of just over a minute, there was a Kyle Henderson putback, a Juergens layup and a Dehm jumper off a feed by Hank Thomas that knotted it at 64-64.
Henderson tied it again at 66-all with 7:41 left after a big bucket by Westminster's Stu Hollandsworth, but the Blue Jays held them off from there.
Hollandsworth, who posted eight of his 10 points in the second half, came up with two more finishes down low to give the home team a four-point cushion, and the squads traded buckets until Carter Wands' free throws made it 76-70 with just under a minute left.
The Red Devils weren't done pushing yet, though,
With 23 seconds left, Wiegand pulled down a defensive rebound after a missed free throw by Westminster's Steven Brandt, and EC raced down the court to set up a possible game-winning play. It didn't materialize, however, as a Bennington heave from deep clanked off the basket and forced EC to foul.
Kobe Wands put away both free throws to seal the win.
With the win, Westminster (9-10, 8-4 in the SLIAC) solidified its position in the battle for the top four spots in the conference. Eureka fell to 5-6 in the SLIAC and 6-11 on the season.
Carter Wands posted a team-high 16 points on 5-of-10 shooting, while Brandt finished with 15 and Tabb added 13 off the bench.